One Nation, Divisible Under God

For 45 years the Pledge of Allegiance has included a mention of the Almighty. Atheist Michael Newdow is suing for removal.

"Clearly Congress was trying to use religion as a political tool in 1954, and that raises serious church-state concerns," says Benen, whose organization boasts 60,000 members nationwide. "It's a sound argument, but Mr. Newdow likely won't prevail. The courts are just unwilling to consider the controversy, as evidenced. There may be many judges that fear political consequences. It would be outrageous to so many religious people if 'under God' was taken from the pledge."

Benen says that AU won't join the pledge fight for strictly pragmatic reasons. There are more timely and winnable battles in which to engage, he says. For instance, the AU is currently arguing a case in Florida against the use of vouchers that allow tax money to be used to send kids to Christian schools.

Newdow says his pledge fight -- unlike AU's strategic battles -- is essentially personal. The act of 1954 infringes on his own religious freedom, he claims. He's a minister of atheism, ordained by the Universal Life Church, a controversial California entity that has ordained millions of ministers of all stripes and beliefs at the mere asking. Newdow says he'll be opening his church, the First Amendment Church of True Science (FACTS), soon, likely on the Internet. Atheists, he argues, shouldn't have to pledge to a God in whom they don't believe. He compares his refusal to that expected of Christians, who would surely refuse to pledge allegiance to "one nation under Allah." Atheists, he says, are among the last groups in the U.S. that are fair game for hatred and discrimination. (At least six states still have laws barring atheists -- who make up between 4 and 13 percent of the U.S. population -- from holding public office.)

He concedes that there isn't much sympathy for atheists in mainstream America and that his cause, which has been unpublicized until now, is likely to be met with popular derision. Still Newdow says he's certain that the appellate court, on the strength of his exhaustive arguments, will have to rule with him. If it does, the case could eventually land in the Supreme Court, where the act of 1954 would get its final challenge.

If the appellate court rules against him, Newdow says he'll refile the case in another district. "I'll just have to start over," he says. "I'm not going to stop banging my head against this wall."

Contact Bob Norman at his e-mail address: Bob_Norman@newtimesbpb.com

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